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I'm over at LB's place working while she creates DIY airlocks for her fermentation experiments. I meant to mark a paper, but I left it at home, and while that's exactly five minutes' walk from here, tonight that is too much.

A propos of nothing, one fine thing about teaching composition is that I can now outline a damn good summary. Had you said to me ten years ago, “state the author's thesis and key points using new language and sentence structures while excluding specific examples or I will press this button and destroy every copy of The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson existing in the world," we would all be living without one of the key sources texts for retellings of Norse mythology, is all I'm saying.

Concise it has not made me. Which is to say, I've been reading things I will now not even attempt to summarize properly.

I've just finished Ellen Kushner’s Thomas the Rhymer, recommended by [personal profile] kenjari. I hadn't read it before, but, like many people, I found that Swordspoint made me feel all funny inside. I've retained a sense of goodwill towards Kushner ever since, though I've not read the other Riverside works.

It was a pleasure to recall the particular flavour of high fantasy I associate with the late 80s/early 90s, some of which quietly naturalized queerness in a way very helpful to a queer-trans-weirdo teenager in a northern BC city.

Reading Norse Mythology made me want to re-read D'aulaires' Book of Norse Myths (it was the one I had as a kid.) Those illustrations! I've never forgotten Odin with his bangs in his eyes.

Reading D'aulaires', I noticed, with gratitude to Neil Gaiman, where he had restored some of the coarseness and ribaldry of the original stories. D'aulaires' is for children, and while it happily recounts the putting out of eyes and the crushing of giants, the authors choose to tell us that Loki tied "himself" to a goat to make Skadi laugh, which is merely perplexing, rather than that he tied his genitals to the goat, which is comedy gold.

Anyway, it's a lovely telling, though I fear I may have been almost equally influenced in my youth by the Dungeons & Dragons versions of the immortals.

From D'aulaires', naturally, to The Prose Edda, which I had never read, and which the library miraculously happened to possess in a tiny scholarly edition circa 1964 (hadn't been culled yet, I expect). I am plodding through the prologue right now, which is a strange melange of Biblical-crypto-historical justification for telling the stories at all. The scholarly introduction has interesting context for why Sturluson would do this, describing the Edda as part poetic manual, part veiled hoard of old faith. I'd like him to get on to the bit with the hammer, though.


Audio version of this entry here

Crossposted from Dreamwidth (http://radiantfracture.dreamwidth.org/9969.html), where there are comment count unavailable comments. Comments either place are great.
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East of Eden, John Steinbeck (1952)

Well, I cried at the end.

Spoilers for East of Eden plus way too many Expressive Capital Letters )

It's very good, if not quite my cup of ethical struggle.

P.S. What are the Hamilton-Steinbecks even doing in this book? I kept expecting them to intersect more directly with the Trasks.

The Snow Ball, Brigid Brophy (1964)

This is a small book forged from dense, ravishing language. It doesn't really function like a story; it works like music, with motives and themes appearing, submerging, reappearing in new forms. (And motive, here, has a lovely double valence of character motivation and recurring image or idea – the cherub's face, the mint cream, sex and death.)

The book is like a small, ornately-carved case that, opened, reveals itself to be a music box and begins to play, with little dancers twirling inside – and then, when the music reaches its final crescendo, suddenly snaps shut, almost on your fingers.

When I arrived at the finale of the book, I thought: am I disappointed with this ending? It's abrupt and it's not what I wanted for these people, as people. Then suddenly I could see, dimly, back over the course of the novel, the way its central characters, while being wholly and recognizably human (and in fact specifically really quite 1960s British humans), each also embody Eros and Thanatos, in immortal-mortal dance. The book ends as music ends, in the meeting and resolution of themes, rather than as a narrative: and maybe there is something unsatisfying in the resolution of even the most perfect music, precisely because it works at the edge of signification but never enters in. To do this from the other side, to take the tools of narrative – image, dialogue, event – and make them function like music – is pretty astonishing.2

This is more my sort of thing than East of Eden -- scintillating, amoral, elliptical, strange.

The Snow Ball was my favorite recent encounter with art until I listened to S-Town and saw Legion, and now I think there must be so much good creative stuff in the world that my heart can’t contain it all.


1. I guess I mean not just the archetypal murderer but also the ones who lose out through some ordinary mistake, appetite, miscalculation, and the treachery of others.

2. Partly I get this musical stuff from knowing that Brophy was inspired by Mozart's Don Juan, and was a serious scholar of his music.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth (http://radiantfracture.dreamwidth.org/9352.html), where there are comment count unavailable comments. Comments either place are great.
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I seem to have endured a flurry of dopamine-click-led not-entirely-well-advised online book ordering. Things keep arriving, often things that are not quite what I imagined they'd be when I ordered them, if I remember ordering them at all.

An elderly yet still robust copy of Brigid Brophy's The Snow Ball arrived today (discussed brilliantly on Backlisted here). That can only be a good thing.

And this week I sat right down in the middle of the Salinas Valley (page 353) to read Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology.

I hadn't read any Gaiman in a good while. I thought it would be happy to check back in with him, and with the Norse myth-world of my childhood.

Norse Mythology's dust jacket is beautiful: a soft matte black infinity dusted with stars, with a lustrous Mjolnir in the centre.

Some of my favorite stories from the mythos are in Gaiman's book (the forging of Mjolnir, the birth of Sleipnir), and some I didn't know as well (the mead of poetry). Some of the gods I feel most affinity for are less prominent (Baldur, Bragi).

Gaiman and I are both totally hot for Loki, so that works out, because Loki kind of is the protagonist both of this retelling and, arguably, the mythos itself. I'm not a traditional storyteller or an anthropologist, but it seems to me that Gaiman picks up on the culture-hero role of tricksters like Loki as creators and bad/fortunate role models.

I’ve loved Gaiman's use of this mythos in other works: Sandman especially, and American Gods. Norse Mythology itself isn't a wholly successful adaptation for me.

Why? )

Ultimately, reading Norse Mythology made me want to re-read the book of Norse myths I had (or at least read) as a child. I did a search; the book must almost certainly be the d’Aulaires’, probably in the 1967 version.

I found it in a Popular Online Bookstore, and then, on even sexier second thought, at the local library.

Now I will say positive things about a book, to prove I can.

Just when East of Eden was fading me out, Steinbeck dropped deeper into the workings of Cal's character, and my faith flared up again. Steinbeck is very good at imagining the inner lives of people without ordinary empathy. I find it exhausting to be in those minds for such long stretches, but this is not the same as the work not being well done. The work is done very well.


Crossposted from Dreamwidth (http://radiantfracture.dreamwidth.org/8312.html), where there are comment count unavailable comments. Comments either place are great.


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